The Balance Method: Using Balance in Photography to Create Beautiful Images
Composition, or the art of placing things in your frame to tell your story, encompasses plenty of rules, from the rule of thirds to leading lines. But have you ever considered the importance of balance in photography?
When we talk about balance in photography, it covers a multitude of different elements that can be both physical and abstract. For example, you might balance different textures on your scene, or colors, or light and shadow. But you might also juxtapose concepts, for example, free and contained. The principle behind balance in photography is always the same, however; it means creating equal visual weight within your frame.
1: Types of Balance in Photography
There are many different examples of balance in photography. However, many think balance is mainly about symmetry, but it is far from it. There are a great many ways to balance a scene without them having to look identical. Take a look at the top options available to you as a beginner photographer and try them out the next time you are walking around the city or take a longer drive.
For a start, there is symmetrical balance, which is also called formal balance. We’re naturally disposed to find symmetrical things attractive because of the sense of harmony that mirror-images project, hence why we look to symmetry for balance and it’s usually the first idea that we consider when it comes to balance.
Symmetrical balance can present itself horizontally and vertically. You might, for example, create a perfectly balanced image with a skyline reflected in a river or lake, or by photographing a vertically symmetrical building.
In addition to horizontal and vertical symmetry, look out for diagonal and rotational symmetry, where the image is mirrored diagonally across the frame, or can spin on its axis and still look the same.
Asymmetrical balance, or informal balance, is when different objects, or indeed nothingness in the case of negative space, are used to create a sense of balance in a scene. Here, you might use contrasting sizes and the weight of numbers to counteract each other. For example, you might position a large sunflower in the bottom left corner of the frame balanced by two smaller sunflowers in the upper right corner. Or it could just be two contrasting objects, differing in size or shape or color or texture or purpose, placed opposite each other–vertically, horizontally or diagonally–in the frame. While they are different, it’s this difference that provides the necessary balance across the scene.
Try using the rule of thirds to help you achieve asymmetrical balance within a frame: use the dividing lines and powerpoints to place your objects.
Color balance is a potent form of balance to use in your images. You can contrast a small, intense area of red against a vast expanse of its complementary color, green. Why do beach photos always look so enticing? It’s because of the contrast between and balance struck by sand against sea and sky. As well as using complementary colors to balance your scene, you can also look to contrast subtle and more vibrant tones against each other to create a counteraction.
As well as color balance, you can also achieve balance in monochrome. Look at how light and shadow work together in a scene to create areas that contrast with each other but simultaneously form a whole. When you’re using color or tonal balance, always keep the theory of negative space in your mind’s eye: or how something can be balanced by nothing.
Finally, there is conceptual balance, or different ideas and thoughts can balance each other in a scene. Maybe it’s the motion of the swimmer against the calm of the surrounding water. Or perhaps it’s the verdant oasis springing out of the desert. As well as ideas, you will often find that these conceptual balances have color, tonal and spatial counterpoints too that can be enhanced by using compositional techniques such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, and negative space.
If you’re not sure if or how a photo is balanced, ask yourself: ‘Does every part of this image work together as a whole? If there are different elements to it, are they complementing each other to tell the whole story?’ If one element is more dominant than another, is this how it should feel, or do you need to rebalance the scene?
2: Tips and Techniques to Create Balance in Photography
The main idea behind balance is to create a composition that is pleasing to the eye as the objects, tones, and colors are of equal visual weight in your shot. Check out these 7 top tips and techniques to help you deliberately capture meaningful and visually appealing photographs. Don’t forget that improperly balanced images will instantly throw off your viewers and become less engaging.
Observe and Plan
Often when you are looking to create balance in a photo, it’s something that you need to consider. If it presents itself to you immediately, you are fortunate! You might instinctively know that the contrast of light against dark in a scene will be perfect, but you’ll need to position yourself to capture it best. You know that a slice of cake in the bottom right corner, in focus, will balance against a cup and saucer in the top left, but you’ll need to experiment with depth-of-field to get it just right. Is one larger item best balanced by two or three smaller ones? The only way to find out is to try. Start with less is more, and work from there.
More than anything, balance comes down to contrasts. It’s not about things looking the same, but about them somehow feeling the same, even when they are different. Balance is about light against dark, large against small, one against many (and often one large against many small), rough against smooth, boisterous against calm, vibrant against neutral. Look for compliments, for peaks and troughs, for the completion of a whole.
Look for Lines
Lines can help you balance your scene in part by acting as the dividers that separate dark from light, or rough from smooth, for example. But they can also work by drawing the eye through a scene and from one element to another that’s balanced against it. Remember both the tri-lines of the rule of thirds and leading lines when it comes to balancing photos.
Feel the Texture
Texture can create a smooth and rugged look, as well as feel different, and in this way provide a unique sense of balance. Using texture and patterns in your photos naturally grabs the attention and helps counterbalance other parts of the composition. When it comes to using this technique correctly, remember that the fewer elements, the easier they are to balance. When framing, think of any unnecessary elements, reducing what’s in the frame to its essential parts can make this your favorite shot.
Play with Focus
As well as using subject placement and compositional rules, color, tone, and texture to create balance, you can also use sharpness and blurriness for the purpose of balance, too. Work on using your depth of field to balance your focal point against your background. This also helps to create visual weight in your photos and balance the other elements around your subject for a deeper story to be told.
Create Tension from Imbalance
In many ways, an unbalanced scene that holds your attention is actually balanced. Think about that small dot of red in a sea of green in the color section, or a subject being pushed to the far left-hand side of the frame with an expanse of negative space to the right. The tension between the complementary colors or the something and the nothing is precisely what gives the image visual weight, interest, and balance.
Never be afraid to crop your scene in post-processing in order to achieve the precise weight between its elements that you want. Yes, try your best to always get things right in-camera, but there’s no shame in cropping after the event, either. Sometimes, circumstances mean that try as you might, you can’t get it perfect in the moment. And let’s be honest, why regret hindsight when a few pixels shaved off here and there can create exactly what you want.
There are examples of balance in photography everywhere; it’s just a case of keeping your eyes open to them. When you’ve got a feel for what balance is in photography, you’ll find that looking for the visual weight in your images becomes natural and you’ll always be alert to it because it brings so much to your photos.